No offense to the humble spoon (after all, this site is named after it), but it’s not as necessary for modern American diets than its pointier sibling, the fork.
And although there’s been some innovation in terms of environmentally friendly disposable spoons in the form of Planeteers’ edible spoon, there are few options for plastic fork replacements that don’t destroy the Earth. Startup TwentyFifty aims to change that with its fork, which founder Zack Kong, a bioengineering graduate from the University of California San Diego, said is “the first compostable fork in the world that’s similar in function to plastic and wooden forks.”
The difference between TwentyFifty’s technically edible products — which currently include forks and spoons but will eventually encompass chopsticks, stirrers and straws — is its patent-pending manufacturing process that compresses wheat flour, soy flour, corn flour and water into strong utensils that can withstand higher temperatures. Essentially, TwentyFifty’s spoons won’t melt soaking in a bowl of hot soup for 30 minutes. Due to the nature of the ingredients of the utensils, the company says they will break down in a backyard compost pile in as little as 10 to 30 days, while competing compostable products need to be broken down in industrial plants.
“The other benefit of this product is not just the compostability, but it’s also an organic fertilizer,” said Albert Liu, a TwentyFifty board member and business advisor. “When these utensils compost, they add 2.7 cents worth of fertilizer to the soil. We use grains to make the utensils, then they go back into the earth to help grow more grains.”
The big hurdle for the company now is cost, with retail price per utensil around 50 cents each, wholesale at 25 cents and bulk at 15 cents. That’s hugely expensive compared to plastic, which could be as cheap as pennies per utensil. TwentyFifty anticipates prices to drop to 5 to 10 cents as it scales up and automates its production line, which will allow it to produce 10,000 to 20,000 units a day.
TwentyFifty’s target market isn’t individual consumers, however, who could just use silverware. Rather, it’s aiming to partner with universities and municipalities. Liu said the company has a vendor agreement with UC San Diego, and has partnerships in place with Malibu, Santa Monica and San Francisco, which have all placed bans on single-use plastics. The utensils can also be found at a number of California cafes and yogurt shops.
Earlier this year, the New Food Economy found that so-called compostable bowls frequently used by Chipotle and Sweetgreen actually contained “forever chemical” PFAs, which as their name suggests, don’t break down. Meanwhile, plastic pollution continues to be a global threat. So if TwentyFifty’s utensils break down like the company claims, and more environmentally friendly alternatives become available, progress can be made toward preventing future waste.